Thursday, April 19, 2018
Education

Hillsborough teacher in porn scandal sues to win his job back

TAMPA — A Liberty Middle School teacher who was fired amid allegations that he exposed his students to porn is suing to win his job back.

David Tenney, 52, contends that the Hillsborough County school district was wrong to fire him from his job as a social studies teacher.

In fact, the School Board voted 5-2 that the district did not prove Tenney was guilty of immorality or insubordination, according to the suit.

District officials were unable to prove the initial allegations, that Tenney allowed pornographic pop-ups to flash on an overhead projector and watched porn on his smartphone while students were taking a test.

The board did find that Tenney could be fired for violating district policy on Internet devices, something Tenney denies.

"There is no evidence in the record Mr. Tenney willfully refused to obey laws or policies related to the public schools," says the suit, filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court on Sept. 18.

Tenney is also contesting the other charge the board upheld, that he acted incompetently.

"The School Board, in finding Mr. Tenney guilty of charge four, incorrectly redefined 'incompetency' to justify termination," says the suit.

Tenney said he liked to use technology in the classroom but had problems with the district-issued computers. So he asked permission to use his own laptop. The school technology coordinator installed the district software, according to the suit.

He says a pop-up image appeared on his personal screen after he logged into a system called Education Connection to record class attendance. It showed a woman with exposed breasts. Tenney said he closed it immediately and kept teaching.

A report from the district's professional standards office tells a different story.

The report describes a pop-up that appeared on an overhead screen and a second pornographic pop-up and says both were in files, one labeled "porn" and the other "sex something."

It also says students saw Tenney watching porn on his smartphone while they were taking a test.

But many of those allegations did not hold up as the case progressed toward the hearing.

"The attorney got all of that thrown out," said board member Cindy Stuart, who said there were no sworn statements and only one student witness.

The district tried to prove that Tenney was insubordinate when he refused to give up his laptop for inspection.

But Tenney said his union representative said he didn't have to and that the professional standards investigator did not give him a clear answer when he asked what the consequences would be.

While the district says Tenney violated a policy that allows "only district approved equipment and software" and states that employees lose their privacy rights when they link up to the school district network, Tenney argues that he had permission to use his laptop.

And he says it was not unreasonable to refuse to turn the laptop over on his union representative's advice.

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